Widely regarded as one of the greatest point guards to ever play the game, “The Cooz,” “Houdini of the Hardwood” or “Mr. Basketball,” Robert “Bob” Cousy revolutionized play on the hardwood — as arguably the greatest assist-man ever.
During the 1950s and 60s, Cousy dominated defenders, not through his ability to score — averaging 18.4 points per game during his career as a Boston Celtic — but through his ability to distribute the rock.
Cousy averaged 7.5 assists a game during 924 career games, yet isn’t a household name like teammate Bill Russell or Wilt “100 Reasons to Know Why He’s Famous” Chamberlain. Cousy was, and still is, the definition of a true point-guard in the eyes of many — but that is a definition that is changing.
As we are seeing in the game today, “hybrid” point-guards like Chris Paul, Derek Rose and Deron Williams are being called on more and more to shoulder the scoring load as the team’s “on-court coach.” This change is recent, only visible in the past three to five years, but where did it spring from? Where did it originate?
It wasn’t until the 1980s — well after Cousy’s time — that the NBA started the see a change, and one experiencing it could almost say it was “Magic.”
In 1980, Ervin “Magic” Johnson, a 20-year-old rookie, broke onto the scene and forever changed the way that we perceive the role of the point-guard.
If Cousy could be considered “Houdini,” Magic was a variable Merlin or Gandalf. Magic made opponents seem like speed bumps rather than road blocks, slipping in, out and around defenders. Magic used his size and strength to his advantage, to either find an open teammate or drop a “famous” baby hook.
During his decorated career, Magic demonstrated and solidified in the eyes and hearts of basketball lovers around the globe — after averaging 19.5 points per game for his career — that point-guards can score.
After Magic retired in 1996, there wasn’t anyone to pick up the slack. The pick-and-roll became the staple play for point-guards like John Stockton, who used it as a method to get the ball to others on the court. The scoring surge that Magic had brought to the position seemed to fade.
Stockton was the next iteration of the prototypical point-guard, averaging a double-double for his career but flying under the radar for most of his illustrious tenure on the Utah Jazz, as the man who got the ball to Jazz forward Karl Malone.
Stockton marked a return to the less physically opposing presence of point-guards like Cousy, as someone who would fly under the radar — and the hoop — to distribute the basketball without all the flashy frills.
Stockton’s career averages of 13.1 points and 10.5 assists will show everyone, especially those betting the line back then, that if Malone was out, Stockton wasn’t the man to pick up the slack and pour in 40-plus and rally a team around him — point-guards just didn’t carry that swagger.
Then, midway through the 1990s, three players appeared on the scene that forever — much like Magic did — changed the way that a point-guard is looked at and what’s expected of them. The dynamic trio of Allen Iverson, Steve Nash and Jason Kidd, all hit the hardwood running and never looked back.
While Iverson may not widely be considered a point-guard, he was a player that the ball needed to go through every play. The change here was that Iverson was a scorer. Iverson’s career average is 26.7 points per game — higher than that of Magic, showing that someone who can distribute the ball, 6.2 assists per game, can still handle with the burden of scoring.
Kidd on the other-hand, made passing the ball seem effortless and was a driving force behind redefining the position as a do-everything point-guard. If triple-doubles were once considered that of the big-men — Oscar Robinson aside — Kidd demonstrates that point-guards are incredibly versatile.
Much like Kidd, Nash wasn’t afraid and wasn’t deterred from shooting the ball. Dishing the ball to the tune of 8.3 assists per game for his career, Nash is probably the player who influenced the coming of the next iteration of the point guard, which is now visualized in the Wake Forest University prodigy — Chris Paul.
Formally known to the basketball universe as “CP3,” Paul is that of legend. Already showing that he’s a fearless scorer, averaging 19.3 points through his first five seasons as a professional, Paul is shattering preconceived notions that point-guards have a pass-first, shoot-second mentality.
Chris Paul could be considered Magic 2.0, but it’s probably more appropriate to call him “The Reborn.” Paul is reviving a position that hasn’t been given as much recognition, outside the realm of assists, since Magic left the scene. Since Magic left the court in 1990, only one point-guard has won the prestigious honor of Most Valuable Player, Steve Nash. This is going to change with Paul.
It’s not just the ability to score that sets Paul and these other “hybrid” point-guards apart. It’s their ability to completely takeover a game and neutralize an opponent through a balance of passing and shooting.
Paul doesn’t have to dish out 12 assists a game, though he could, to win a game. What we are seeing as fans, is a shift in the role of a point-guard. Basketball is no longer “how do we get the ball to the best player down low for an easy bucket,” it’s “what is the point-guard going to do with the ball and how will the defense adjust to it.” The point-guard upgrade is complete. Welcome to the world of do-everything, score-anytime, can-you-even-believe-he-made-that-pass point-guards. Point-guards are now a quadruple-threat. Now only if they could figure out this lockout situation.